Man Set on Fire – What Happened?


By Linnea Patterson, Shaden Cortez and Bryce Gaston

Testimonies Continued in the Man Caught on Fire Case

By Linnea Patterson and Shaden Cortez

The trial of the People v. Robert Glen Coe resumed on Thursday, with both defense and prosecution calling witnesses to the stand. Mr. Coe is charged with arson, aggravated mayhem with great bodily harm, and premeditated attempted murder, for throwing gasoline on James Rach and lighting him on fire on August 27, 2018.

Deputy District Attorney Deanna Hays called “JDM” to the stand as the prosecution’s second witness. JDM is the landlord of the residence that Mr. Coe occupies. JDM maintained the defense’s case to be correct, that Mr. Rach was a nuisance: he was always showing up at the residence, even though he was never allowed to be on the property. The witness testified that he called the police on Mr. Rach to get him off the property at least twice, but he continued to show up. “He got his nose in there like a camel with his nose in a tent.” He also claimed that Mr. Rach often stole various items from around the property, including carpentry tools. JDM said, “He would come with a half empty backpack and leave with a full one.”

The next witness, called by defense, was “BM,” neighbor of the residence owned by JDM. In his testimony, BM claimed that Mr. Rach frequently slept in the overgrown bushes on his property, often leaving his trash and once even a broken spoon. One day BM witnessed Mr. Rach throwing rocks from across the JDM property, subsequently hitting BM’s fence in the process. When asked, BM claimed Mr. Rach said he was trying to get the attention of his girlfriend, who was in the house located in the back of the property. In his testimony, BM showed his frustration at the situation, remarking, “I used to do that when I was 13. How old are you dude?”

“LL,” mother of James Rach, was the next witness. Her testimony added some clarity to the case’s confusing love triangle. She testified that Mr. Rach and his girlfriend, who Mr. Coe also claimed to be his girlfriend, lived with her for four months. She also explained that Mr. Rach sometimes goes by her last name, which could explain why he gave that name to the police when asked at the scene of the crime.

Detective Robert Brazier of the West Sacramento Police Department also testified, and gave his account of the day of the attack as he responded to the 911 call. He recalled Mr. Rach being in extreme pain, writhing around on the ambulance gurney, his skin sloughing off of his legs. Detective Brazier also went into Mr. Coe’s residence, where the fire took place, and detected a heavy scent of gasoline. He also saw the singed blanket that put out the fire which was later unraveled to the jury as evidence. He also claimed that when trying to question Mr. Coe/Mr. Rach’s girlfriend, she refused to offer any helpful information and was very defensive.

Detective Brazier continued his testimony by identifying evidence from the scene of the crime. The evidence consisted of a crushed Shell gas station soda fountain cup, which had a strong gasoline smell. Prosecution also projected several photos of lighters that were found throughout Mr. Coe’s home and were mostly likely used to ignite the gasoline.

After further questioning from the defense, Detective Brazier said Mr. Rach was able to provide his mother’s home address yet unable to provide an accurate date of birth. He admitted Mr. Rach had a warrant for his arrest at the time of questioning. Mr. Rach was not arrested after the discovery of the warrant because he was receiving ongoing medical care. He also said that Mr. Rach was to be hospitalized for at least three days after the incident, which would require an officer to stand by. Therefore, Mr. Rach was also not arrested, due to the inconvenience of the occasion.

Police Respond to Call of Man on Fire

By Bryce Gaston

On August 27, 2018, Officer Christopher Riggens and Detective Jerry Watson, along with multiple other officers from the West Sacramento Police Department, responded to a call about a possible man on fire. They arrived at a private residence on Pecan Street in West Sacramento at around 10:00-11:00 in the morning.

At trial this Thursday, Officer Riggens testified that when he arrived on scene he saw a man standing in the yard pouring water on himself from a hose. The man appeared to be badly burned on various parts of his body, including his face, arms and hand. He was immediately given medical attention and taken to the UC Davis Medical Center where he was treated for his injuries.

Officer Riggens also noted that the residence had a strong smell of smoke and gasoline, and there was still smoke coming out of the door to the guest house.

Riggens began looking around the property for the suspect who allegedly started the fire, Robert Coe. After searching the premises for close to 20 minutes, he saw a crawl space that was about 2-3 feet wide and 2-3 feet tall leading underneath the house. The officer shined his flashlight inside the small space and saw a man lying far back in the corner.

Officer Riggens drew his weapon and commanded the suspect Robert Coe to come out. Coe complied and was quickly put in handcuffs. Riggens noticed that Coe also had burns on his arm and hand. He was promptly transported to the hospital and treated for his injuries as well.

Shortly after the incident, Detective Jerry Watson, the primary detective on this case, visited the alleged victim in the trauma department at UC Davis Medical Center and questioned him about the events that had occurred. He testified that he could barely hear what the victim was saying because his voice was hardly intelligible due to the medicine he was on, but he still obtained his statement.

The trial will resume on Monday with further witness testimony and is expected to be begin jury deliberations by Tuesday.

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About The Author

The Vanguard Court Watch puts 8 to 12 interns into the Yolo County House to monitor and report on what happens. Anyone interested in interning at the Courthouse or volunteering to monitor cases should contact the Vanguard at info(at)davisvanguard(dot)org

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